Sunday, January 19, 2014

Barbed Wire

Weather: Warm afternoons have tempted men out to burn; last snow 12/22/2013.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens, prickly pear; leaves on German iris, yuccas, garlic, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, Saint John’s wort, vinca, coral bells, cheat grass; some rose stems green.

What’s red: Cholla, coral beardtongue leaves, some rose stems.

What’s grey or blue: Four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Fences have been built for both functional and cultural reasons.

The first probably evolved from the first attempts to domesticate animals. Then, the need was to keep animals in. Later, it was necessary to keep predators out.

Neolithic villagers seem to have been the first to use them to demarcate space, to separate the sacred from the ordinary, the domesticated from the wild. Post holes indicate they were built around their villages. Or rather, the remains of wooden posts that altered the soil when they decayed bear witness.

Mette Løvschal believes fences first appeared in the south of England about 3500 years ago. About 3000 years ago, the idea spread to "Belgium, Holland, Northern France to Northern Germany, Denmark, Scania and all the way to the Baltic countries."

Defensive uses apparently arose in the Iron Age, about 2500 years ago. Their use as signifiers of private property came later.

Romans preferred living fences, that is hedges grown in ditches. Once created, they required little maintenance. They also had the advantage they provided firewood. On Britain’s Land’s End peninsula, rock walls were built because glacial debris had to be removed.

Oliver Rackham noted hedging was not universal in England or Europe. Hedgerows tended to develop in hilly terrain or near woodlands. Broad valleys and prairies didn’t tend to support them. When fencing spread from Bronze Age England around 1000 BC, the major lowland river valleys were being settled.

Dead fences developed where there were no stones and no water to support hedges. American barbed wire was introduced in the 1870s. It only required wood for posts. It was promoted in the west as the only fence capable on restraining cattle. They became the first fences in this area, and still are the most common.

When I bought my land, the man handling the sale had a board in his office with pieces of barbed wire he had collected in the area. Each manufacturer had a slightly different design for the barbs. He must have had a dozen different types.

What I notice when I drive through the country are the posts. I assume those scavenged from trees are older than those manufactured from trees. Some used just branches.

Some used more substantial limbs.

With these fences, the posts both space the strands of wire and support their weight. Eventually, man began creating corner posts which were more substantial. Many, in fact, were structured like doorways.

They were so strong, the fence wire could be strung taut between the them. The intermediate posts supported less weight, but kept strands separated.

Today, hollow steel posts are used, but often still are buttressed into triangles for greater strength.

Modern posts are steel.

Men spaced them so far apart, they no longer were as effective. Some now have added spacing chains which both keep the strands separated and make it harder to part the wires to walk through.

Once constructed, fences tend to stay around. When the old posts fail, new ones replace them.

When the wire rusts or is cut, new wire is strung.

Even dead fences have life cycles.

Petersen, Irene Berg. "Privacy hedges date back to the Iron Age," ScienceNordic website, 2 January 2013, discusses work of Mette Løvschal.

Rackham, Oliver. The History of the Countryside (1986).

Photographs: Except for the fence in snow, the pictures were taken in the past few years in the area. The snow scene is from the San Juan mountains this past November.

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